Part five in an eight part series previewing the 2010 Kentucky Football Wildcats: Defensive Line
Arguably, the finest defensive end in KSR blogger history.
In his initial offensive as commander of “Operation Win,” head coach Joker Phillips has demonstrated that he is very willing to rock the boat. Despite the program’s unprecedented success in the late stages of the Rich Brooks era, Phillips made several significant changes to the coaching staff this off-season. Phillips removed the offensive line coach, defensive line coach and special team’s coordinator, all long-tenured and respected coaches. However, much to the chagrin of a sizable portion of Big Blue supporters, the axe did not fall on defensive coordinator Steve Brown, whose conservative schemes have frustrated some within the fan base.
Every coaching staff has a coach who draws a disproportionate level of the fandom’s ire, whether deserved or not. For reasons not entirely apparent to me, Brown seems to have become that scapegoat in the last two football seasons. This vitriol comes despite the fact that the Cats’ defense has shown dramatic improvement in Brown’s three season at the helm. For example, in the three season prior to Brown’s promotion, the Cats’ defense gave up a demoralizing 31 points and 440 yards per game. In Brown’s three seasons as coordinator, the Cats have averaged surrendering a much more palatable 24 points and 363 yards per game. This represents an improvement of almost 80 yards and 7 points per game. Still, Brown’s lack of blitzing and exotic defensive formations is not crowd pleasing. (Bear in mind that Mike Majors loved both.) Instead, Brown has largely relied on an unusual run of NFL level defensive talent in the front four to control opposing offenses.
Defensive linemen are the most difficult players to find in college football. To be successful at the SEC level, players at those positions must possess an exceptional combination of size, power and aggressiveness. Kentucky’s recent defensive upswing has been powered by the likes of Myron Pryor, Corey Peters and Jeremy Jarmon, all of whom possessed these traits, and now ply their trade in the NFL. Now, for the first time in several years, Kentucky does not appear to possess high end talent in the defensive trenches. If Steve Brown is to endear himself to his detractors, he will have to find a way to shore up a unit with more questions than answers.
DeQuin Evans 6-3, 256 Sr. Long Beach, Cal. (Los Angeles Harbor Community College)
Tristian Johnson 6-1, 259 Fr-RS LaGrange, Ga. (LaGrange)
Justin Henderson 6-3, 256 Fr-HS Bamberg, SC (Bamberg-Ehrhardt)
Ricky Lumpkin 6-4, 306 Sr. Clarksville, TN (Kenwood)
Shane McCord 6-2, 291 Sr. Hartwell, GA (Hart County)
Antwone Glenn 6-3, 260 Jr. Pacolet, SC (Broome)
Mark Crawford 6-1, 293 Jr. Indianapolis, IN (Ben Davis/Coffeyville CC)
Luke McDermott 6-1, 265 Jr. Louisville, KY (Trinity)
Mister Cobble 6-0, 321 Fr-RS Louisville, KY (Central)
Collins Ukwu 6-5, 249 So. LaVergne, TN (LaVergne)
Taylor Wyndham 6-4, 242 So. Swansea, SC (Swansea)
Patrick Ligon 6-4, 238 Fr-RS Germantown, TN (Christian BioRors)
The strength of the defensive line, such as it is, appears to be at defensive end. DeQuin Evans may be the best player on the defense. The former Junior College All-American started all 13 games in his first season as a Wildcat in 2009 and led the team in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (12.5). Taylor Wyndham made an unexpected splash in 2009, earning 2nd team Freshman All-American by Phil Steele and 3rd team Freshman All-American by CollegeFootballNews.com. Playing defensive end at only 230 pounds, Wyndham showed instinctive play-making prowess to overcome his thin frame. Playing in all 13 games, Wyndham racked up 7 starts, 28 tackles, 6 1/2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and one virgin sacrifice. Providing depth at defensive end will be sophomore Collins Ukwu (3 starts in 13 games in ’09), redshirt freshman LaGrange alum Tristian Johnson and true freshman Justin Henderson.
If there is a single position that will dictate the success or failure of the 2010 Wildcats, it may well be the defensive tackle position. Defenses are built from the inside out, and without reasonable resistance in the middle of the defensive line, the remainder of the defense is powerless to stop any offense. Kentucky will depend on a group of defensive tackles who have largely spent unremarkable careers as reserves in the Kentucky defense. The most experienced tackle is Ricky Lumpkin. The senior from Clarksville, TN has played in 31 career games with 16 starts. Still, he has yet to prove himself as a game-changer, recording just 1.5 sacks in his time in Lexington. Seniors Shane McCord and junior Mark Crawford, both career backups to this point, will look to fill the other tackle spot. It is not hyperbole to say that the Cats desperately need redshirt freshman Mister Cobble to escape academic hot water prior to the season opener. Cobble has the highest ceiling of any tackle on the team, and may be the only player at the position who merits a consistent double team. Cat fans are also crossing their fingers regarding the eligibility of long awaited big man Donte Rumph, who I believe was originally recruited to UK by Jerry Claiborne. If Cobble and Rumph are both ineligible, look for the coaches to move at least one offensive lineman to defense as a stop-gap measure.
A lot has to fall into place for the defensive line to live up to recent standards at Kentucky. There is no margin for error. Injuries or academic casualties would spell disaster to an already thin group. However, there is some cause for optimism. The starting group has very respectable size and some play-making ability from the edge – primarily from Evans and Wyndham. If Cobble is eligible, the tackle position could present a nice four-man rotation. If it all comes together, perhaps the fans can find a new target for their assistant coaching animosity. I think Scott Rigot is available.
Next up: Linebackers